From June 16th-June 22nd Steam ran their latest edition of the 3-times per year Steam Next Fest. It is a front page takeover festival where any developer can submit their game provided they haven’t appeared in a previous festival and are releasing within a year. If you didn’t see it, you can still browse the festival here.

I put up a survey for developers to share how much attention and wishlists their games got during the festival. I had 42 games share their data with me. This is my report on the festival.

Here is the wishlist distribution for all the games. Each blue bar is a different game. 

Analysis

As you can see two games did spectacularly well. What did those 2 games do? They got into the Most Downloaded Demos and Trending Upcoming Games lists. Here is a screenshot of this widget.

The “Trending” and “Most Downloaded” tabs were a new feature for this festival and caused a massive spike for the games that got into them. The #1 game in my survey got more than 70K wishlists because it maintained a top 12 spot throughout the festival. 

The second most wishlisted game I surveyed earned 22K wishlists during the festival. It appeared within the top 24 games on the front page “Trending Upcoming Games.” However, to see it users had to click a “Show More” button. Simply put, the difference between being in the top 12 vs the top 24 on those lists is an astounding 48,000 wishlists.

How did the typical (non front page) game do?

Here is a logarithmic scale of the wishlist chart:

Wishlists

  • Average wishlists earned: 3752
  • Median wishlists earned: 957
  • Fewest wishlists: 95
  • Most wishlists: 70187

Demo downloads

  • Average:5628
  • Median: 2834
  • Fewest downloads: 275
  • Most downloads: 76034

Analysis

If you notice the median number of demo downloads (2834) is much higher than the median number of wishlists (957). Lets graph those two numbers per game to see if there are any trends.

Overall shoppers were much more likely to download a game than wishlist it. In fact, only 12% of games had more wishlists than demo downloads.

I looked at those 12% of outliers to see what was different about them. Maybe they were more attractive so people didn’t need to test them out to determine if they wanted it and so wishlisted it instantly? Two of the games were featured in the festival sizzle reel. One of these game was Get Together which was in the puzzle reel and the other was Brok the InvestiGator which was in the adventure reel.

Overall I feel like festival browsers are more likely to test drive the game instead of just blindly wishlisting it. Many developers wonder if festivals give you lower-quality wishlists because shoppers are using the wishlist as a “bookmark.” However this download-first behavior I see in the data puts that theory into question.

Note that Steam doesn’t easily provide a number of how many people actually played the demo. So I couldn’t report on that.

Sizzle Reels

At the top of many genre pages there is a youtube video showing off a selection of games that Valve curated. Here is an example of one

Four of the games in my survey were featured in these sizzle reels. I asked these developers how they got featured. Did they have a friend on the inside? Bribe Valve? Check a box on the submission form that nobody else saw?

Nope! In fact, they had no idea. Valve didn’t even give them the heads up. They just featured them. It was a happy surprise

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have any big effect on wishlists. Many of the top performing games were never featured in any of the sizzle reels.

How did this festival compare to the previous ones?

I like to compare the top 5 earning games in my surveys across all festivals, this gives me an idea of how the 1%-ers do. Then I also like to compare the bottom 5 games. I think this shows how steam is distributing the visibility. Are these festivals becoming more winner-take-all or more egalitarian?

Keep in mind that I don’t have data for ALL games in the festival so this could be an issue of sampling. Maybe in one festival I didn’t find any of the truly bottom earners or top earners. So a grain of salt is needed here.

A look at the bottom 5 earners

In general, the smaller, less well known games, are getting slightly more visibility every festival. Notice in the very first Steam festival 1 year ago the bottom earning games got only about 40 wishlists. The floor is much higher now. You are almost assured to get 100 wishlists by participating in the festival.

A look at the top 5 earners

At the top tier, the best games are not getting as many wishlists as they used to. HOWEVER! There was that new feature they added called “Most downloaded demos” which is a self-reinforcing widget. Games that appear in it are going to get more and more visibility. Two of the games in my survey were featured there. 

One game ran away with the most wishlists I have ever recorded in any festival: 70187! 

In general it seems that for the upper middle class games (but not 1%) Steam is keeping it more egalitarian. But the 1%-ers that appear in the “Most Downloaded Demos” section, get a TON of additional visibility. Much more than in any other festival. 

Other interesting tidbits:

Most of your wishlists will come in the first 24 hours. Here is a chart showing median wishlists earned every day for the festival. 

So be sure to have everything perfect and scheduled to be promoted on the first day. It seems like shoppers browse it once when it first appears on Steam then don’t really come back.

Festival Wishlist Quality

There is debate as to whether wishlists earned during a festival are actually worth anything. The thought goes that these festivals are just hedonistic displays of games and shoppers are wishlisting games left and right even if they aren’t really interested in buying them! Those shoppers are just hitting the wishlist button to try and keep track of what they are mildly interested in during the maelstrom of the festival.

Simon Carless over at Game Discover Co has argued very convincingly that “Follower” count is a more accurate measure of how interested someone is in a game. “Following” a game gives shoppers more news and alerts about it so they are probably going to be more selective as to what they follow.

Soooo, the logic goes that having a lower wishlist to follower ratio means that the wishlist quality is better and people will be more likely to buy your game. 

I did a little analysis to calculate the Wishlist to Follower ratio before the festival and during the festival for the top 10 games. By comparing those two numbers we can see the quality of those wishlists. Here is that analysis graphed (note the higher the bar is, the lower the quality of the wishlist)

As you can see the wishlist quality is indeed “worse” but not by much. On average the wishlists earned during the festival are about 36% “lower quality” than those earned during a normal period. 

Analysis

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the wishlist quality was actually pretty good during the festival. If you also look at the chart for the number of downloads vs wishlists it seems that people really do try out the games before they wishlist them. They aren’t just blindly clicking “Wishlist”

Yes, a wishlist that is earned during a festival is not as potent as an “organic” wishlist that you earn during a non-marketing period. BUT, the huge boost in visibility you get more than makes up for it. So join festivals! They are still good!

Genre interest

I always try to remind prospective developers that shoppers on Steam really really like Strategy and Sim and Builder games. Similarly, they don’t really like platformers and puzzle games that much. 

I try to find various ways to tease out the revealed preference of the Steam typical shopper. One way is by looking at the number of views every Steam Sizzle Reel gets. 

If you flip over to Youtube you can see the number of views each video got. So I graphed them. (Note that for some reason VR, Simulation, Horror, and Sports & Racing didn’t get sizzle reels so we can’t compare them here)

Yes action is #1 but I consider that a meta-genre because platformers, rpgs, strategy games can all be considered “action” so it doesn’t really define anything. Same goes for “Adventure.” So if you look at the pure genres like Strategy, RPG, Puzzle, and Platformer, there are clear indications about what the Steam audience prefers.

Look at how the Platformer video was the LEAST watched one of the bunch. It was even worse than Puzzle. Typical Steam shoppers really don’t care about Platformers.

Festival summary

So in general the Steam festivals are still really worth your time. They generate a ton of visibility, the wishlist quality seems pretty good, and Valve continues to make it easier for everyone to get more visibility. 

The new “most downloaded” tab is a new multiplier that supercharges the top games (if you are lucky enough to be in one).

My general recommendation is still to hold off on participating in a festival until the last one before you launch. This will give you the best shot to have built up a bigger community, a really good demo, and really good looking graphics to get you in the prized featured spots.

If you are interested in reading writeups for past festivals, check the following links: